Morocco Bound

Today’s title could be a description of my thoughts (or at least one thread thereof) over the past week, as well as the mark of a well-presented book.  It is also a farcical musical from the 1890s by one Arthur Branscombe, in which the hero recruits the aid of a retired costermonger (and other English “characters”) in order to travel to Morocco.

The start of Spring can be a challenging time for the British vegetarian trying to satisfy his eating needs from locally sourced (or, at least UK-sourced) produce.  As I attempt to maintain interesting dining choices, within my self-imposed constraints on ingredients, I have turned to Morocco and, in particular, the tagine for inspiration.

I must admit that I haven’t watched Masterchef since the days of Loyd Grossman, but am still aware (through some form of cultural osmosis) that the current incarnation features a bald, shouty, retired costermonger (just feel that craft!) and an antipodean cook yclept, John Torode.  It is to the latter that I owe the very apogee of my recent tagine strategy with his self-styled “Moroccan Tagine“.  In what is becoming a tradition, I did not produce the dish in precise accordance with the instructions provided: mostly due to a quite disgraceful performance by the purchasing department here at Fish Towers.  As it was, I had to make two special trips into the village, first to acquire the prunes and then the leeks (I really should read the whole recipe before making these emergency ingredient dashes) and so the final product was a tad lighter (OK, 50% lighter) on red onion and lemon juice than in its original conception (I refused to countenance a third trip – no mere recipe is the boss of me).  Truly, “cooking doesn’t get any tougher than this!”  Even without the additional, enforced shopping expeditions, the tagine leaves a rather longer gap between inception and consumption than is my normal preference – and it makes for a rather unprepossessing sight when you do finally remove it from the oven.  The omens did not look good – though, so far as I’m aware, no culture has ever turned to the vegetable casserole for its glimpses into the future – but all was forgiven when it hit my tastebuds (will they never bloom?).  Not only does it use almost every fresh UK vegetable available at this time of year but it tastes divine: one of the very finest fruits of my mostly meat-free dining years.

But this was not the only reason for my thoughts being Morocco Bound this week.  On Monday evening, after a trip to the Wigmore Hall, I found myself standing on the northbound Victoria Line platform at Oxford Circus (pleasingly free of performing animals in this enlightened age, well, unless you count the more inebriated of the passengers).  Opposite me was a huge poster trying to tempt me to visit Morocco with the strapline that it is the “country you carry within you”.  I know I make my way through a pretty large volume of snap each day, but I think even I would notice had I ingested an entire country (and not even a particularly small one).  I did begin to wonder if Greggs (and their ilk) are entirely blameless: is the current obesity epidemic the fault of the Kingdom of Morocco hitching a lift in an increasing percentage of the UK population?

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